Monthly Archives: November 2017

Sadler’s Wells’ Voices: HR Coordinator Braham Lyons

Sadler’s Wells offers a number of apprenticeships, giving young people the opportunity to access practical training and develop crucial knowledge and skills across different areas of the creative industries. Braham Lyons is a member of our Human Resources team, who joined Sadler’s Wells in October 2014 as an Administrative Apprentice, moving up the ranks to HR Assistant before becoming HR Coordinator in June 2016. We spoke to Braham about what he learned from his apprenticeship, further study and his advice for future Sadler’s Wells apprentices.

What is your background?

I left school and started an English Literature degree at university, but within the first year I knew it wasn’t right for me and I ended up withdrawing from the course entirely. I’ve always loved theatre and the arts so knew I wanted to work in some way in the industry, but I had no idea what to do to get in!

I spent a few years working as a freelance writer, where I undertook a theatre’s writers programme, staged my own play at a fringe theatre, and had a children’s play published but I was still struggling to find regular work and it was really stressful trying to live and work that way, I really needed to find an option for a career rather than odd jobs!

You started out at Sadler’s Wells doing an apprenticeship in HR. How did you find out about this and why did you want to apply for it?

I found the opportunity on Arts Jobs, at the time I was looking for a way to get in to an arts organisation and gain some solid experience to build on, but I had very little relevant experience, so the apprenticeship looked the perfect way to build my experience while learning about the industry. To be honest, I really didn’t know that arts administration or HR roles existed within the arts industry, so it was refreshing to find an entry level opportunity that was open to me and that I had a real chance of getting.

What was your experience of the apprenticeship, for instance the kind of day-to-day tasks and projects you worked on?

The great thing about being an apprentice here was that I was treated exactly as any other member of permanent staff, I was given responsibility and control over my own workload which is something I wasn’t expecting. My main focus was recruitment so assisting with everything from job creation through to coordinating interviews, and job offers which is great because you get to deliver good news, and so many people are genuinely excited to come and work at Sadler’s Wells. I also worked across the administrative functions, so helping staff with benefits, and keeping track of annual leave. As our department is quite small, I got a lot of exposure to wider HR issues and projects as well, so I had a fantastic oversight of HR over the course of the year. All of the academic work was linked into the day to day work I was doing as well, so it felt like I got to apply my learning on a continuous basis.

How do you think that this apprenticeship was helpful in helping you pursue your career?

I really wouldn’t have even known that this was a viable career for me without completing the apprenticeship. It gave me a year of solid work experience, and confidence with a qualification to back it up. I was lucky in that a role within the department became available for me to apply for, but if it hadn’t, I felt that I would have been in a strong position to apply for entry level HR roles in other organisations. With the range of experience I built up, it transformed my confidence and how I felt about my employability and career options.

You went from being an Administrative Apprentice and you’re now the HR Coordinator. What would you say you particularly enjoy about your job and working in HR?

In HR you’re always looking at how things can be improved, and I have a lot of freedom in pursuing projects and initiatives that will help Sadler’s Wells as a whole, it’s great to have that freedom and also the confidence from my Head of Department to work in that way.

With recruitment, I also get to represent Sadler’s Wells which is something I’m really proud of, and the interactions I have with people are often their first impression of the organisation so it’s great when I can help them join in a really positive way.

What have you learnt so far in your time here?

I gained a lot of confidence in myself and my ability, but I have also learned that you can’t do everything by yourself. You need to use other people’s expertise and skills, and really work together to perform at your best.

Another key thing is to not assume and to go for opportunities that intrigue you. Before doing my apprenticeship I thought studying wasn’t for me, but now after completing my apprenticeship and working within HR, I’ve gone back to university as a part time student to obtain a CIPD qualification and I’ve absolutely loved it (couldn’t be more different to the abandoned English degree!), I can’t wait to be qualified, which is something I never thought would happen!

What advice would you give to other young people doing an apprenticeship at Sadler’s Wells?

You will get out whatever you put into your time here, so if you’re interested in something, speak up and get involved with as many different areas as you can. You need to get your work done, but there are so many people with a fantastic range of experiences at Sadler’s Wells that can give you an insight into their career, and different options, so it’s really worth buying them a coffee and picking their brains!

Dancer and choreographer Mavin Khoo discusses Darbar Festival

For the first time ever this November, Sadler’s Wells will be hosting Darbar Festival, a celebration of Indian classical dance. Building on its success since launching over ten years ago, Darbar and Sadler’s Wells have joined forces to offer an unprecedented classical dance programme specifically curated by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Akram Khan. One of the artists performing is Mavin Khoo, an internationally renowned Bharatanatyam dancer, who is also Artistic Director of ŻfinMalta Dance Ensemble and rehearsal director for the Akram Khan company. In Indian Adventures of Sitar and Dance, he will present a newly devised solo as part of an ongoing collaboration with vocalist OS Arun. We spoke to him about his relationship with the Bharatanatyam dance form and what he is particularly looking forward to seeing at the festival.

Can you tell us a little bit about what to expect from your solo piece at Darbar Festival?

My solo is essentially a one act journey that is developed out of 2 lines from a traditional music composition called the Varnam. Essentially by using the lines that say…’My lord, it is only you that I have total belief and conviction in, please do not be indifferent to me now’, a whole world is developed whereby the heroine experiences romantic love and longing, to sensuous erotic consummation, to loss and despair, death and finally spiritual transcendence. All in 45 minutes! The things that audiences can look for is my exploration into dancing from a female protagonist’s voice (something that has been an area of development since I made my solo debut at the age of 16). The second thing is the collaborative relationship with OS Arun, the ‘live’ sense which comes from a strong improvisational framework within the work. The marriage of dance that is stimulated by musical ‘in the moment’ choices and vice versa.

This piece is part of an ongoing collaboration between vocalist OS Arun and yourself – what has it been like to work together?

The relationship over the last 10 years has been deep, eye opening, stimulating, challenging. Arun took me into a whole new realm of musicality and depth. The first time we worked together, it was an immediate sense of challenge and he pushed me to challenge him and ensure that musically, I would equal him through dance. There is no element that is stronger than the other: they have to work side by side. He also further gave me the confidence to take risks in performance: that the ‘live’ element is truly live with the choices I would make. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but that’s the point.

How did you come to study and master Bharatanatyam?

I started training in Malaysia as a young 5 year old. By the time I was 10, I was very fortunate to be chosen to be a disciple of the legendary dance Guru of Bharatanatyam, Padma Shri Adyar K. Lakshman. I was 16 when I was presented in my full length solo debut and literally I was so blessed that my career immediately took off. The very next year, I was invited to inaugurate the renowned Music and Dance Festival at Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai which is I guess the Royal Opera House of Chennai when it comes to classical music and dance. Everything happened rapidly from there. I am far from being a master, but I live my life steeped into the form and keep going deeper and deeper to find more freedom.

You’re fluent in so many different dance styles, but what do you think is particularly special about Bharatanatyam and classical Indian dance as a whole? 

I think what is really particular about Bharatanatyam when it is done well, is first and foremost the notion of interpretation of text with a strong musical backbone- what we refer to as Abhinaya. When this is done well, it is truly a transcendental experience. Yes, there are other elements like its pure dance technique, rhythm, lines, foot work. But, for me, its uniqueness and artistry and the element that can’t just be learned and produced without a deep sense of surrender is this. I would say that this is the case of Indian classical dance as a whole.

You’re also going to be doing a live coaching session with BBC Young Dancer finalist Lakshmi Ranjan. What do you hope audiences will be able to take away from watching the relationship between student and teacher?

It’s very specific, what I will be doing with Lakshmi. When the idea of a session was suggested, I felt it was really important to share the depth with which we work and should work. The idea of interrogating a line to find innumerable possibilities of interpretation is something that is special of all classical interpretive roles. The same can be said when one is coaching Giselle or Swan Lake. What do we do when we revisit these classics? What more is there to search? These are some of the things I wish to share with Lakshmi and the audience.

Sadler’s Wells is staging Darbar Festival for the first time. Are you excited about any other performers or shows at the festival?

Extremely excited! Mythili is one of the most exceptional dancers of her generation, dearly loved and admired in Chennai and all around the world. Aditi Mangaldas is a legend and Dheerendra, I have heard so many fantastic things about him so I can’t wait to see him. I am of course so happy that Akram will be dancing – what he gives in his dance today is something beyond form. I am also happy to see that Seeta Patel has been given such a good opportunity, as this is a good benchmark for other British-based young South Asian artists to work towards.

Darbar Festival ran at Sadler’s Wells on 9-12 November.

In Conversation with Nilda Guerra and Rodney Barreto from Vamos Cuba!

Set in the crazy chaos of Havana Airport, Vamos Cuba! is a spectacular celebration of Cuban dance and music, currently playing at The Peacock theatre. Choreographed by Nilda Guerra, who was also the creator of the smash-hit Havana Rakatan, the show also features a live band led by acclaimed Cuban musician Rodney Barreto and a cast of Cuba’s most talented dancers and musicians. We caught up with Nilda and Rodney to talk about the show’s strong musical influences and how Vamos Cuba! perfectly expresses the Cuban spirit of optimism.

How did the idea of Vamos Cuba! come about and what was the inspiration behind it?

Nilda Guerra: We wanted to explore the idea of being in the airport, and how that is quite a controversial thing for Cuba. It’s a struggle for Cubans, because we cannot leave the country, so we wanted to create something for ourselves. Our cast are just waiting in the airport, so that they can communicate and tell stories with each other.

We have been working on this project a long time and we wanted to bring it to England, as a contemporary production with Cuban music from the 1950s until now, and working with Cuban artists and English producers. We all have an idea of Cuba, that it’s all about mambo and cha-cha-cha, but we felt that we really needed to show more than just the commercial part.

The show has undergone a little bit of a transformation since you last performed it at Sadler’s Wells, can you tell us about what has changed and what audiences can expect?

Rodney Barreto: We have new songs in the show! This isn’t just traditional music, we also included different Cuban genres, like straight ahead jazz. The audience can also hear timba and the evolution of salsa.

Can you tell us a little bit about the casting for the show?

NG: I really am a lucky woman with this cast! Right now we have nine of the best Cuban musicians in the band. For instance Rodney, who has worked with famous Cuban musicians such as the pianist Chucho Valdés. We didn’t know we were going to have such a beautiful cast! There are 14 dancers, and interestingly 12 of these are the principal dancers, when normally you only have four.

Dance seems to be hugely significant to Cuban culture. How do you represent this and other elements of your culture in the show?   

NG: The dancing and the music has a connection. Music and dancing is ingrained in family heritage, in Cuban life. In Cuba dancing motivates the musicians to create a different type of style, a rich style. We have influences from Spain, Africa, and America. That’s why I always try and bring the musicians and dancers together because I cannot see the dancers dancing with just recorded music, that’s really safe for the producer but really bad for the show, because it doesn’t have a life. It is the connection with the dancers and the music that is the most important element to the show.

RB: Within the show we also wanted to include something about the folklore and religious element of Cuban culture. It’s a big part of many people’s lives there, being closely connected to religion and praying. There’s a special vocal part in the show which really focuses on that.

We feel that we have all the Cuban cultural styles in the show, which is shown in the change in music, like the cha-cha, blues, reggae, mambo, timba, it’s all included.

What is your favourite thing about this new production?

NG: I think for me the music plays an important part. The way it moves through the audience and the sensation of it is probably my favourite element of the show. It’s a history show so it’s complicated for the dancers to express that drama, but I think the music helps and really gives you all the energy and emphasises the emotion of the show.

How would you sum up the show in three words? 

NG: I would say maybe ‘Cuba for now’.

RB: Yeah, I would maybe say ‘The Cuban Reality’. This is the way things happen in Cuba, maybe not for everybody. Cubans often make the best of the situation. Even if, for example, we found out there was a flight delay, maybe we’d be a little upset, but 5 minutes later we say ‘whatever’ and we find something to do, deal with the situation, maybe make some friends. That’s the Cuban lifestyle that we wanted to show our audience.

NG: The Cuban way of doing things, even if we dream about travel and leaving the country, is just to laugh and have fun!

RB: It is the meaning of the show. We cannot show every problem that we have, but we do want to portray the optimism that Cubans have. If we have a problem, we have to laugh. We share with people no matter what.

Vamos Cuba! plays at The Peacock theatre until 11th November. Book tickets here.

The Movement – Vamos Cuba! Social Mover Review

Evelyn Francourt is one of four London-based Social Movers for The Movement  – an Arts Council funded partnership among three of the country’s leading dance venues; Sadler’s Wells, Birmingham Hippodrome and The Lowry, which aims to promote dance across the UK.

Here Evelyn tells us all about her experience of watching the Cuban dance extravaganza Vamos Cuba! at The Peacock Theatre. 

London is chilly and crisp at the moment – Autumn has kicked in and there is a whisper of Christmas in the air but on Tuesday 24th October for my second outing as a Social Mover for The Movement we were transported to the sultry climes of Havana, Cuba for the opening night of Vamos Cuba! –  an evening of uplifting, frothy dance, music and laughter.

Nilda Guerra’s Vamos Cuba! at the Peacock Theatre tells the story of a group of passengers stranded in Havana airport with the airline crew for the night after their flight to Miami is delayed. What unfolds is a collection of beautifully danced mini drama’s bringing romance, comedy, highs and lows told with a mixture of solo’s, duets and group ensembles.

The characters read from a slap-stick comedy; a not-quite-what-he-seems priest, a romantically involved pilot and air hostess, a flirtatious femme fatale, a porter, a doctor and a no-nonsense customs officer to name a few.

With two romantic story lines there are some beautiful duets however what is captivating about Vamos Cuba! is the shift in tempo, style and visuals. Duets are interspersed with group routines; there’s a mixture of Latin and Afro Cuban dance styles including Salsa, Mambo, Cha-cha-cha, Reggaeton plus Contemporary dance. We see costumes ranging from carnival head dresses to suitcases as props, all of which makes Vamos Cuba! a riot of colour and energy.

The second act adds a change of pace and tone with a dreamlike sequence that delves into Cuba’s cultural history. Dancer Katia Pèrez is elegant and statuesque and performs a beautifully choreographed piece that touches on Cuban history.

What set this show apart for me was the amazing live band; the two singers are onstage throughout the performance and weave into the narrative and it is the vocals and sass of Geidy Chapman that particularly stands out.

The evening ended with a salsa class. There is something about dancing en-masse, in sync with percussive music that is so uplifting that it stands as a reminder of how good dance is for the soul.

Vamos Cuba! is not your typical dance performance – it’s a snapshot of Cuban culture; a showcase of multi talented dancers; an evening of high energy live music; a sensory riot with an atmosphere so contagious that you will find yourself undulating on the dance floor to Salsa music afterwards.

Not bad for a Tuesday night in chilly London.

Vamos Cuba! is at the Peacock Theatre from 24th October until 11th November 2017. Book tickets here

Image credit: Johan Persson